The Impossible Flight Image by Hanna Melnyczuk
Ukrainian American artist Hanna Melnyczuk has made a drawing about the war nearly every day since Russia invaded Ukraine.

By Katharine Webster

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Ukrainian American artist Hanna Melnyczuk has made a drawing about the war nearly every day.

“I want to release my own feelings and anxiety,” says Melnyczuk, a senior adjunct professor who has taught drawing at the university for 25 years. “I wake up and I want to do this.”

Melnyczuk, whose parents were World War II refugees from Ukraine, is doing more. Her students (and those of fellow Art & Design adjunct faculty member Wen-Hao Tien) donated small drawings and paintings for a benefit art show, “Sunflowers for Ukraine,” hosted by the Arts League of Lowell in the spring. All proceeds went to UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency.

Melnyczuk is also putting together an art show for Ukrainian and American artists on the theme “Peace and War.” The show will be held at the New Art Center in Newton, Massachusetts.

“I’m so connected to Kyiv and the Ukrainian people,” she says. “I want to help young artists there.”

Close the Sky Image by Hanna Melnyczuk
Melnyczuk’s parents met in Poland and married in 1949 at a camp for displaced people in Germany before immigrating to the U.S. in 1950. She and her brother grew up in New Jersey speaking Ukrainian at home and going to a Saturday Ukrainian language and culture school, where her mother was the principal. There, she learned traditional Ukrainian arts, including embroidery and egg decoration. Her parents collected Ukrainian art and crafts, too.

Her artwork is partly a product of that heritage, she says: “My works were influenced by being a child of refugees. There’s always a connection to something my parents told me about Ukraine.”

Melnyczuk studied art and psychology at Beloit College and earned a master’s in counseling at Columbia University, while continuing to draw and create art installations. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, she traveled to Ukraine for the first time. She stayed in Kyiv for four months, where she taught English as a volunteer and witnessed a euphoric, post-Soviet flowering of art and culture that inspired her to pursue an M.F.A. and teach art.

Four years ago, she went to Ukraine again, this time with her husband and daughter. They visited her mother’s hometown, staying with a cousin. For now, her cousin and his family are safe in western Ukraine, and they talk by Zoom as often as they can, she says.

In the meantime, she keeps drawing and joining anti-war protests, trying to bring attention to the invasion of her ancestral homeland. And she keeps talking to artists in Ukraine to find out how she can help.

“The biggest fear they have is that soon, the world will forget them, but the war will still be going on,” she says.